If you’ve never heard about the island of Hvar, then you’re missing out on a fantastic destination that’s made it onto the Top 10 Islands list of the Conde Nast Traveler magazine year after year. Hvar (Pharos in Greek), is the fourth largest island in Croatia and is characterised by fertile coastal plains, silver and purple lavender fields, sweet fresh water springs, olives groves, pine forests, and a rich ancient history.
UNESCO protected Heritage
There are many cultural traditions and heritage sites on this stunning island, three of which are protected under the UNESCO heritage act, and are well worth a mention:
- The only place to find aloe lace is in the town of Hvar, situated on the south-western coast of the island of Hvar. Slender, light threads are taken from the centre of freshly cut aloe leaves, and are entwined and wreathed to form a web-like pattern on a cardboard backdrop. The Aloe lace is produced by Benedictine nuns who have been doing this for hundreds years. This should not be confused with Aloe aristata, known as Lace Aloe which is indigenous to South Africa.
Za križen – Following the Cross
- After mass on Holy Thursday (which takes place before Good Friday), six villages on the island of Hvar each send out a party that walks to each of the other villages, before returning home. This walk covers 25 km and takes eight hours to complete. There is one cross-bearer within the group, who usually takes the lead. From ancient times, this was a way for the communities on the island to connect to each other, as well as to the Catholic Church world-wide. This tradition is an intricate part of the Hvar cultural identity.
Stari Grad Plain
- The agricultural landscape of Stari Grad Plain has been left almost completely intact since the Ionian Greek’s colonisation in the 4th century BC, making it one of the oldest inhabited areas on the island. The agricultural produce consists of grapes and olives, and it has been tended for over 24 centuries to the present day. It is on the site of a nature reserve, with various walls, ruins, and stone shelters left behind by the Greeks, who used a system called chora – a way of geometrically dividing the land.
More than a dozen civilizations have inhabited Hvar. A Neolithic civilization thrived on the island for thousands of years and left behind remnants of pottery. The Illyrians discovered this fertile island later and after them the Romans, followed by the Byzantines, Croats, French and Austrians. It was only in the 11th century that it became a part of the Croatian kingdom, though truth be told it was the Venetians who remained and ruled the longest. You can see evidence of these various histories in architecture throughout the island. Ranging from early Gothic to late Renaissance, these different styles are prominent in palaces, monasteries, churches, and cathedrals.
Classic architecture can be seen at the Augustan monastery that was built some time during the early century, rebuilt in 1309, and again in 1994. Its name also changed along the way, from Augustan to Franciscan.
Other buildings which stand today include the church of St. Stephen’s in the town of Hvar, which has a 17th-century bell tower, and is a blend of Renaissance and early Baroque styles. Inside there is a wooden choir stand from the 16th-century, along with many beautiful renaissance paintings.
Wrecks from Roman galleys have been found along the coastline of Sucaraj, a testament to the reign of Queen Teuta who fought the Romans during the 13th century. The town she built later became the foundation of Sucaraj and you can still see the remains of her palace, as well as the fortress of Demetrius of Pharos. Other artefacts from bygone civilizations include the Illyrian graves, ceramics, seashell and bone tools/ornaments, Roman manor ruins, and several amphorae filled with wine, oil and honey.
Hvar’s unique combination of fascinating history, tradition, beautiful scenery, friendly locals, and wonderful cuisine makes it well worth a visit.
Our guest author, Roseanna McBain, works for the South African accommodation and booking website, TravelGround.com – which specializes in accommodation in the Drakensberg. She has a passion for history, fine wine and good literature.